The University of Newcastle, Australia

Closing the gap on Indigenous health

Friday, 5 December 2014

Health clinician and researcher Nicole Turner was honoured at the 2014 NSW Aboriginal Health Awards for her work in encouraging nutritious eating, physical activity and healthy weight for Indigenous children in the Hunter New England Local Health District.

Jo Gwynn Nicole Turner

Ms Turner received the Gail May Award which acknowledges those working tirelessly at the grassroots level to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the State.

As one of Australia's few Aboriginal community nutritionists, she has served as Senior Aboriginal Project Officer on the Go4Fun intervention for overweight children and as an investigator with the Many Rivers Diabetes Prevention Project (MRDPP).

"I am honoured to be recognised for doing something I'm really passionate about and feel privileged to work with so many great communities and people," Ms Turner said. "It is so rewarding to educate young children about a healthy lifestyle and help them change their eating habits."

Go4Fun focuses on nutrition and physical activity for children aged 7-13, helping parents learn more about healthy shopping, label reading and cooking. The program is co-ordinated by the Health Promotion unit of Northern NSW Local Health District and delivered by Community Health education groups and local Aboriginal Medical Services.

Initial difficulties in securing participation were overcome through widespread consultation with key Aboriginal stakeholders, which yielded new and effective engagement strategies. Vegetable boxes were given to each family as an incentive to remain with the program, and assistance was provided with transport and childcare. 

The University of Newcastle's MRDPP research study was conducted in partnership with the Biripi and Durri medical services in Taree and Kempsey respectively. Research leader Dr Josephine Gwynn said the goal was to reduce type 2 diabetes risks among young Aboriginal people.

"In the context of the high burden of chronic disease and reduced life expectancy for Aboriginal people, excessive consumption of poor quality foods such as sugary drinks and hot chips is of major concern," Dr Gwynn said.

"Nicki has rolled this program out very successfully across rural and remote areas in the Hunter New England Local Health District.

"A NSW Ministry of Health advisory committee has now been established to further this work across the State, based on the model of delivery we developed in the Many Rivers project and consolidated in the Go4Fun program."

* Dr Josephine Gwynn and Ms Nicole Turner are affiliated with the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre for Health Behaviour and the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, researching in conjunction with HMRI's Public Health program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

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